Emmerdale is to tackle the emotional subject of secondary cancer as character Faith Dingle receives the diagnosis that her breast cancer has returned.
In episodes that will air later this week, Dingle, played by Sally Dexter, will be told the devastating news that she has secondary cancer.
Secondary cancer is where cancer has spread from where it started to another part of the body.
A primary cancer is where a cancer starts, but according to Cancer Research UK, sometimes cancer cells can break away from the primary cancer and settle and grow in another part of the body.
This new cancer growth is called secondary cancer. Secondary cancers are also called metastases.
Reflecting on the news of her character's cancer returning, Dexter says: “It’s upsetting, but really important as a storyline, because it’s more than a storyline for so many people.
“It matters to people who are going through it as well as people who will go through it.
“I feel a sense of real responsibility, but also a privilege to be doing this storyline.”
Commenting on the storyline Emmerdale producer Laura Shaw says: “Faith’s devastating cancer diagnosis will impact not only her life, but all those around her.
“Given the calibre of actor Sally is, I know she will approach the story with great honesty and depth and do it justice, and this in turn will raise awareness of such an important issue that affects many people on a daily basis.”
In order to ensure the secondary cancer storyline is a realistic and authentic depiction, the Emmerdale production team has been working with the charity Breast Cancer Now (BCN).
Clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Now, Catherine Priestley, says: “With it estimated that around 35,000 people are living with secondary breast cancer in the UK, it’s been an incredibly important opportunity for us to provide expert guidance around Faith’s storyline."
Priestley says BCN has worked to help give a steer to scriptwriters as to how the character's diagnosis and experience of the disease can be portrayed accurately.
They hope the storyline will help to raise awareness of some of the signs and symptoms of secondary breast cancer.
“Everyone’s experience of breast cancer is different, but we know from calls to our helpline just how anxious women may feel about the possibility of their cancer returning, and how overwhelming the impact of a secondary breast cancer diagnosis can be for patients and their families,” she adds.
Watch: Julia Bradbury discusses breast cancer documentary on 'This Morning'
Signs of secondary cancer
According to Macmillan Cancer Support symptoms caused by secondary tumours can depend on the area of the body affected.
The charity recommend always seeing your doctor if you have any symptoms that are ongoing, unexplained or unusual for you.
It is important to note, however, that while it is important to get any new and persistent symptoms checked, there are plenty of other potential explanations.
"Remember that aches and pains in the bones can be due to ageing, arthritis or side effects of treatment for primary breast cancer," the BCN site explains. "Breathlessness and a cough can be symptoms of a cold or flu-type illness.
"And many people experience tiredness and loss of appetite after cancer treatment."
Possible signs of secondary breast cancer
The Emmerdale storyline is going to explore secondary breast cancer with BCN putting together some potential signs and symptoms to look out for. These include:
- Unexpected weight loss and loss of appetite
- Severe or ongoing headaches
- Altered vision or speech
- Loss of balance or any weakness or numbness to the limbs
- Any lumps or swelling under the arm, breastbone or collarbone
- Discomfort or swelling under the ribs or across the upper abdomen
- A dry cough or feeling out of breath
- Feeling sick most of the time
- Feeling much more tired than usual
- Pain in the bones, for example in the back, hips or ribs, that doesn’t get better with pain relief and may be worse at night
Is secondary cancer treatable?
According to Macmillan Cancer Support in a small number of situations, treatment can cure secondary cancer.
"However, usually secondary cancers are not curable and the aim of treatment is to control the cancer or manage any symptoms," the site explains.
Depending on the type of cancer, some people will have treatments that control the cancer for several years.
The treatment you have may depend on the type of cancer and what treatment you had before. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse can tell you more.
Find out more about the signs and symptoms of metastatic breast cancer: breastcancernow.org/sbcsymptoms
Additional reporting PA.